Amidst questions about its utility, railway TA continues to chug along
There is a strong section of policy-makers within the Indian Army and defence ministry who see no or little role for the Railway Territorial Army (RTA) in the mobilisation of troops, armaments, ammunitions or other war-time exigencies. It seems most unlikely that the existing RTA regiments will see any expansion or modernisation in the near future. There is a possibility that the RTA will be reduced to being a stand by force of the Indian Railway alone.
Of the 10 regiments of RTA, spread across 16 Railway Zones and about 64 Divisions across India, with the exception of three — 1031 Railway Engineer Regiment, Kota; 1101 Railway Engineer Regiment, Chandigarh and 1105 Railway Engineer Regiment, Secunderabad — all were ordered to be disbanded in 2001.
‘Many senior officials in the defence ministry argue that there is a ‘marginal’ role for the RTA in the modern-day army,” a senior official told FORCE. He said that the railways however, wanted to continue with the TA regiments as a means of tiding over crisis situations. Given that workers’ union in the railway is a very strong force, there is always the fear that they might call a strike. RTA units were used effectively during the 1974 railway employees’ strike. RTA thus will continue to maintain their current force strength and operational status without any change, the officer said.
Army apart, some people in the railway board have also raised questions about the continuance of the RTA units. Their argument is: maintaining RTA at approximately Rs 12 crore (Rs 120 million) a year is quite a drain on resources, something which should be done away with and instead the money should be diverted to building new tracks and infrastructure. This became a hotly-debated subject at the Railway Board meetings till the government finally decided in favour of its continuation.
Though the personnel are employees of the railways, they don the uniform and become ‘embodied’ at the time of national emergencies like war or internal disturbances. When embodied they become part of the army, wear their ranks; draw the salary and other benefits as per the army rules. There are 16 SDGMs (Senior Deputy General Managers) posted in different Zones. SDGMs are the coordinating agents between the army and the railway in matters of arranging for new recruits and other operational issues.
Col. P.K. Gupta, a railway officer, is the Commanding Officer and in charge of the 1101 regiment. Lt Col P. Sakhalkar on deputation from army is responsible for training the RTA personnel. In January 2002 during Operation Parakram, the 1101 regiment, based at Manimazra near Panchkula, was tasked for operations from Jodhpur in Rajasthan to Jammu. At the time of emergency, the ADG TA gets in touch with the Railway Board and asks for RTA personnel to be ‘embodied’. The board communicates with the general managers who in turn ask their SDGMs for force mobilisation at the level of railway divisions. In every RTA regiment, comprising 1,300 volunteers from the railway, there are an additional 50 to 60 army personnel, who are permanently posted at the respective RTA regimental centres.
A railway employee offering to join the RTA has to serve a minimum of seven years in the TA. Those cleared by the railways have to undergo one year’s basic training including BPET (efficiency test with weapons, two-km run, monkey rope cross ditch, etc.,) physical and proficiency tests. He is required to take part in any of the three training camps organised by the army in a year. The army maintains a list of approved RTA personnel (with requisite physical and medical standards) with them. A copy of the list is also provided to the SDGMs. The RTA volunteers are recruited from the railway’s mechanical, engineering, electrical, signal and operation departments.
The CO is on the top of the operation ladder. He looks after the movement of the entire RTA troops in any operation. Next to him in seniority is Second in Command in the rank of Lt Col, who also is the executing authority in the CO’s absence. Company commanders, platoon commanders and section commanders in descending order of their ranks follow next. The class-I railway officers when embodied join as second lieutenants. The officers of the deputy secretary rank are at par with brigadier and joint secretary is equivalent to the rank of major general. The inspectorates are appointed as naib subedars, havaldars, naiks, lance naiks and constables. Class IV railway employees join as safai karmachari and are kept aside for army duties on the basis of their pay scale and structures.
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